In a lot of educators’ minds, “student voice” only happens when adults direct learners to share their thoughts in ways that are acceptable in schools. Whether embedded in the curriculum, listened to through adult-led student forums, or guided in carefully moderated websites, student voice is often painted as the cuddly, friendly, and convenient precursor to “student engagement.”
However, after more than a decade of working with schools across the US and Canada to promote Meaningful Student Involvement throughout the education system, I have discovered that student voice is a multifaceted reality that occurs throughout schools, all the time. Today I define student voice as any expression of any learner about any facet of education. It is shared by the kid who runs out in the hallway after class and scribbles “Mrs Jones Sux!”, as well as the student government president who writes a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. Its the girls texting answers to the test under the desk, as well as the debate team captain speaking in at the mock government event.
This shows us how bullying is clearly an expression of student voice. While inconvenient and disconcerting, approaching bullying from this understanding can allow educators to discern the genuine source of why bullying happens. Repressed actions, ideas, knowledge, and beliefs need an appropriate outlet, and schools are positioned to engage both young people and adults in learning through Meaningful Student Involvement.
Since yesterday’s feel-bad-feel-good story started went viral on Reddit, it’s blossomed overnight, and caught fire with major news outlets, leading 68-year-old bus monitor Karen Klein to make appearances on Today and Fox and Friends this morning.
Her interview with Matt Lauer wasn’t the smoothest conversation, but Klein acknowledged the many Facebook messages and outpouring of support, and talks about how her bullies have teased her before. She also had a message for her bullies’ parents: “I’m sorry that your sons acted the way they did. I’m sure they don’t act that way at home. But you never know what they’re gonna do when they’re out of the house. The should have been taught to respect their elders.”
Read more at The Atlantic Wire. [Image: NBC]
While I would never support bullying in any form. I think the reaction to this is sad. We have villainized the students, called them names, and used it as a way to create an even wider generation gap. Matt Lauer called the students “narrow minded monsters”. I was livid when I heard this. Of course the students are bullies and cruel, but are they “narrow minded monsters”, NO! Are they products of our society, yes. The reaction showcases for me, how poorly we understand each other, our schools, and our youth. It also will not stop actions like this by making them villains or by just focusing on their actions alone, punishing them or embarrassing them will do little. This is not just about a lack of respect for elders, it is a disrespect that we show for each other. Where in this world do we model respect? Not in Schools, Not in the media, not in our government. We treat both children and elders with little respect. Yet we expect them to be respectful and empathetic. We learn to be respectful by being respected. We learn by living and learning in a culture of respect.
I think we need to look deeper. We need to look into ourselves and ask how we help to support actions like this. We can not punish bullying away. We can not lecture bullying away. We embarrass bullying away.
The only way to get rid of bullying is to create environments of love and respect, of listening, of empathy. Where we have the time and space to deal with our mistakes and fears. To deal with our insecurities, and our own personal growth.
Until then we will have more news pieces like this, or like the student who was bullied by his teachers (see video of hidden camera shared by upset Dad)… we will have stories of kids committing suicide etc.
While schools do not cause these types of stories, I don’t believe they help to encourage many of the things that stop it.
Just my two cents
-Adventures in Learning